Sam Darnold’s contract terms paint picture of 49ers QB questions
Sam Darnold on Monday agreed to a one-year contract with the 49ers. Terms of the deal were revealed Tuesday by NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero and indicate where Darnold stands in the QB pecking order in San Francisco.
Pelissero reported Darnold’s contract is worth a base value of $4.5 million with $3.5 million guaranteed. The deal with incentives could reach $11.5 million. That’s not a typical deal handed out to a QB expected to be inactive on game days as the third QB.
For reference, last year Nate Sudfeld was given $2 million fully guaranteed to be the backup to Trey Lance. He wound up getting cut when Jimmy Garoppolo returned and Brock Purdy emerged as a viable option.
Darnold receiving $3.5 million guaranteed could indicate a couple things.
The least dramatic of the potential meanings is that the 49ers are afraid of QB injuries derailing another championship run, so they’re overpaying to bring in a third signal caller they believe can win if pushed into a starting role. While Darnold hasn’t had a great career, he’s a physically gifted former No. 3 pick who will only be 26 when the season starts. Plus he’s coming off perhaps his best six-game stretch as a pro to close last season. Given the minimal amount the 49ers have invested in Purdy and Lance (about $11 million) it’s not outrageous to overspend on a third QB.
Brock Purdy’s injury could also be in play here where the 49ers are insulating themselves from potential setbacks or delays in his recovery from elbow surgery. In the event he isn’t available for a week or more, Darnold provides a viable backup option to Trey Lance, who would be the presumed starter in that scenario. This would be an exceedingly cautious move, but given Lance’s injury history it’s hard to blame the team if they wanted to go over the top to protect against losing him as a starter.
Speaking of Lance, he could be the third reason San Francisco ponied up for a third QB. This could be an indication that the 49ers aren’t exactly sold on the third-year signal caller going into the offseason. Darnold gives them a backup plan in the event Lance steps in as QB1 during the offseason program and training camp and struggles. They won’t know exactly what they’re going to get from Lance in Year 3, so Darnold is the fallback in case Lance’s offseason development doesn’t get him to a place where the team is comfortable with him either starting in place of Purdy or backing him up to begin the year.
Everything with the 49ers’ QB situation is on the table, and the Darnold addition is just another fascinating layer to a conversation that will continue all the way up to and perhaps through the start of the regular season.
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